The Art of Solicitations

A marketing tool above all, solicitations are a curiosity, and one that can contain real artfulness — if you’re willing to think outside the box.

“Nothing will ever be the same!”

“The biggest (insert character name here) story of all time!”

“This story must be seen to be believed!”

Comic fans are likely familiar with this type of phrasing. It’s the siren song of the comic book solicitation, 9 the write-ups paired with comic releases as a quick explainer when they go up for order. While these fusions of hype and summary are common in any entertainment form, single-issue comics in the direct market are a rare breed because of their sequential, monthly-ish nature. You must come up with something new for every issue, with the hope that this paragraph or so of text sells the comic for you. They’re kind of a weird, industry-specific anomaly because of that. But they’re a core part of the business.

The objective of a solicit can lead to a lot of big talk. Sometimes, a title might even deliver on those promises. But they’re marketing tools using marketing language; they’re not meant to be literal as much as they’re built for you to believe in. They’re guides for retailers and readers, signposts that say, “You should order/buy me,” depending on the audience.

And you know what? They sometimes work! They can be the exact hook a title needs to get a retailer to up their orders or draw a reader in. I know comics fans who analyze solicits to the tiniest detail, basking in the hype and hyperbole, both as a potential comic buyer and as someone who loves the build-up to something big. Solicits are a crucial part of the direct market ecosystem, even if their value depends on the person. I’m a good example of that range of impact: I don’t pay a lot of attention to solicits, save for when I use them to introduce a title during an episode of Off Panel.

But they are fascinating to me, if only because there’s an artfulness to them, when done well. While many are boilerplate, ‘(x story) will (verb) the (insert the larger universe here) (length of time)’-like breakdowns, you can tell that some take it seriously enough (or, in some cases, unseriously enough) to have a real impact.

While the preferred form has a practiced cadence, answering the key questions about a new release — who made it, what is it and what else is it like, when does it come out, why you should buy it — there are a bevy of ways to approach them. Many of my favorite solicits are those that think outside the box, like Donny Cates’ effort for Crossover #13 in which he delivers the solicit for the finale of the series, before realizing his mistake at the last second (i.e. this isn’t the finale) before audibling to a quick, “Oh this one is good too” type message. Does it tell me what the comic is about? No. Does it make me think about Crossover more than I did before? Absolutely. And that’s what solicits are there for: to build interest, however they can.

But they’re complicated messages, and ones that are difficult to get right. The complexity of this part of the comic making job comes from the need to serve multiple audiences simultaneously, each of whom want dramatically different things out of the experience. That’s where things can get a little wibbly wobbly, as a couple pros told me recently.

“The primary purpose of solicits is to let a retailer know how many copies of a book to order. To do that optimally you’d really have to be completely transparent with all information – as in, say ‘In this issue, X character dies, Y beat happens,’” writer Kieron Gillen said. “But it’s also read by the audience, so it can’t work like that.”

“You’re trying to tease fans and potential readers and get them excited about the book, but you’re also trying to convey critical information to retailers. Those may seem very similar, but they are very often at odds,” writer Matthew Rosenberg added. “You need a potential reader to be curious about a book, to have questions, and you want to keep them mostly in the dark so that when they do read the book it is a satisfying experience and they come back for me. You want retailers to know exactly what is happening, how to hand sell the thing, and to be prepared for what the comic buying public’s reaction will be when the book drops.

“So, writing good solicit copy is balancing those two things, while also trying to be noticed.”

That’s tricky messaging. Lean too far towards retailers to ensure they know the importance of an issue for ordering purposes and you might spoil it for your readers. Favor the sanctity of the story and you could anger comic shops when they underorder the next big thing because they didn’t know it was coming. It can be a tough line to walk.

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  1. Or solicits as I’ll refer to them as going forward.

  2. That’s ‘What would Stan Lee do?’ in case you were wondering. I was and Lowe glared at me through email because of my confusion. Nothing to see here, Nick!

  3. A retailer cited the solicit for Kyle Starks and Artyom Topilin’s I Hate This Place #1 as a particularly good one, with comparison titles at the head, a quick explainer, and an explanation of where you might have seen the creative team making it easy to pitch. That’s nice!

  4. Like a creative team change, first appearance, event tie-in, or if Stilt-Man happens to be in it.

  5. *raises hand*

  6. After all, it can be difficult to change the habits of people who have done things a certain way for a long time, as many in comics are far too aware of.

  7. He added that he likes to hide a secret code in every solicit as well. “If you can crack the code, you can find me and we will go on a spicy adventure together. A word of caution: I determine the level of spice, not you.”

  8. I polled a few trusted folks on the subject and he was largely the first person mentioned.

  9. Or solicits as I’ll refer to them as going forward.